Patrick Baldwin Jr.’s promise, frustration

Patrick Baldwin Jr.’s recruitment drew a lot of attention.

The 6-foot-9 forward was ranked as the eighth best prospect in the class of 2021. He seemed to have everything.

He was a gifted goalscorer who could rise above smaller players and score. He could finish on the edge. He had coveted defensive-length NBA teams.

It was hard not to be excited about his potential. And with the schools Baldwin was openly considering, it felt many teams had a chance to earn a get-rich-quick scheme for his once-in-a-lifetime year and showcase his star-level skills.

There were traditional forces like Duke and Florida that pursued him, but also some untraditional forces like home schools in DePaul and Northwestern, and where he eventually played for his father at UW-Milwaukee.

It’s hard today to capture the justifiable enthusiasm for this mobile, versatile wing during the recruitment process. Because nothing could have gone wrong during his lonely season at UW-Milwaukee.

Baldwin went from being one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft class — a surefire lottery pick and a likely top 10 pick — to someone struggling to stay in the first round. The aftermath of his disastrous season — which included injuries and a battle with COVID alongside his struggles — included UW-Milwaukee firing his father as head coach and Baldwin entering the transfer portal.

Struggling in his lone season in college, Patrick Baldwin Jr. fell from a surefire lottery pick to perhaps slip out of the first round of the NBA draft. The pieces are there, but they never came together.

Baldwin will stay in the NBA draft, so he’s not going back to college. That would indicate that he got good feedback from pro scouts. But then again, his Combine wasn’t exactly a glowing recommendation for him to join the League.

As with so many prospects, it’s easy to see what you want to see. Baldwin’s potential is there. He’s not too far from being a high-profile prospect.

But the tie from the college level isn’t there to back it up either.

What is anyone supposed to do with these two competing narratives?

Baldwin averaged 12.1 points per game and shot 34.4 percent from the floor and 26.6 percent from beyond the arc. In the 11 games he played for the Panthers this season, he averaged just 5.8 rebounds per game.

It should be noted how much injuries slowed him down. He played his first seven games from November 9 to December 13 and averaged 15.0 points per game and shot 36.8 percent from the floor and 32.6 percent from beyond the arc.

That early-season run included a 26-point, 9-for-14 shooting performance against Robert Morris, but also a 13-point, 6-for-15 shooting performance against Florida.

These may not be fantastic numbers or give a lot of confidence. But that’s better than his full-season numbers. And the rest of the season he played sporadically.

It’s hard to find a consistent narrative.

Everything about him just shows that promise and that frustration.

Check out the tape above. When Baldwin goes up for a shot, he has the size and agility to shoot over anyone. And when his shot goes in, it looks really good.

His shooting motion stays the same whether he’s coming off the screens or shooting flashy threes. It looks repeatable and he has the athleticism to move around screens and find open spots to take his shot.

On the other hand, it feels like an unnecessarily long windup and apparent problem that can alter its trigger point and timing. It also looks like he puts the ball in front of his face, losing sight of the target as he goes up for his shot (this was a problem Anthony Davis had early in his career).

That could be why his percentages are so low.

There’s nothing wrong with an odd-looking shot. What NBA folks will be interested in, however, is whether he can get his shot up fast enough to beat the defense, whether he can get a separation to get into his shooting motion with ease, and whether the shot goes in. On that last point, Baldwin seems to be falling behind and has a lot to prove.

Athletically, Baldwin has pretty solid grips. He can drive outside and get to the basket. Baldwin, too, has shown some flash as a passer and is able to quickly feed teammates when defenses are collapsing around him.

But he doesn’t have the speed to blow past defenders, nor has he shown the ability to break away against defenses. He struggled to create for himself what was the role he ultimately played for his team.

Baldwin isn’t particularly fast and is regularly beaten by recovering players. He must use his cunning and intelligence to try to finish the basket effectively. Doing it in college is one thing, the NBA is another story.

The same goes for defence. Baldwin just didn’t make much of an impact on the defensive side of the floor, despite his length and physical ability. It’s not part of his game at this point. That only made his offensive flaws seem greater.

The sporty dimensions are a problem here.

On one hand, Baldwin measured 6ft 10.25 in shoes with a wingspan of 7ft 1.75 at the NBA Draft Combine. That was the third-longest wingspan for a player designated a small forward or guard by the NBA Draft Combine.

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But Baldwin also measured the shortest maximum vertical jump (26.5 inches) and the second-shortest standing vertical jump at 23.5 inches.

This is a long-limbed wing that doesn’t have much natural athleticism. That will inevitably limit his options when he gets to the NBA. It’s another example of how hard it is to determine what to think of them as a prospect.

The potential is all still there. And nobody should deny that or hide from it. Baldwin could be a big swing that hits.

But the reality is that Baldwin will likely establish himself as a 3-point shooting specialist and something of a stoker. He has a good size to be a good defender and the confidence to be a great shooter. There are other parts of his game – he has a really nice floater – that he can develop further.

Those poor shot counts are still the biggest concern. Because when he gets into the league, the skill teams will be relying on him the most to make his contribution. That means he has to figure out his shot one way or another.

All the tools are there.

He has the length and he has the ability to be that type of player. The talent that made him one of the top high school recruits didn’t go away. For him, too, there is a clear path to get there. Baldwin at his best looks like a really good NBA player.

But Baldwin hasn’t reached those heights long enough to inspire confidence.

Someone will have that trust. Someone will give him that chance – probably in the second round, but certainly still possible in the first round. A team will put in the work to try and win that player back.

And nobody will know in which direction his career will develop.

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